(Thought I’d share a short story I wrote several years ago and only just stumbled across.)
by: Allie Frost
Café La Bréche was unusually busy for a Thursday morning. Outside, beneath the bright yellow awning, every table was occupied. To foreigners, the café advertised ‘Paris in a cup,’ but to the Parisians it was nothing more than a simple, somewhat tacky café by the Seine, the towers of Notre Dame watching thoughtfully in the distance.
Emery King wasn’t overly fond of the place, but she had picked it out—and so he went. She said she liked the ambience. He preferred to select his breakfast venues based on the food choice and whether or not he deemed the prices reasonable, but Mona would take burnt croissants and exorbitantly expensive espresso as long as the atmosphere was nice.
“Your coffee will get cold if you don’t drink.”
At his warning, Mona obediently took a sip from her mug, green eyes twinkling over the rim. “Cold coffee is not a tragedy,” she teased.
Emery scoffed. “For €4.50 a cup it is.”
Mona laughed. A breeze kicked up, and she brushed some auburn strands of hair from her face. She had changed her color again. She had been blonde the last time he saw her, and brunette the time before that. He didn’t even remember what her natural hair looked like—or if he had ever seen it.
Mona smirked. “You’ve always been too serious, Emery.”
Emery sighed, crossing one leg over his knee.
“You are not serious enough.”
“I am known to be serious sometimes,” she informed him indignantly. “For example, when I tell you I am glad you came to visit, I am being serious.”
He dabbed at his moustache with a napkin. The foam from his coffee always collected there. He would probably need to shave soon. He had an important conference in about a week and wanted to look professional. Mona hated the moustache the last time they had met—Berlin, three years ago. It was half the reason he’d kept it so long. But this time she said she loved it.
“I could visit more often if we lived in the same country.”
Mona took the sunglasses from the top of her head and positioned them over her eyes. Emery wished she wouldn’t hide them. Sometimes, when he looked in her eyes, he could almost grasp what she was thinking, or feeling—almost. No matter what else she changed, her eyes had always been the same. Mystifying green.
“I like it here,” she determined. “There is no reason for me to move.”
Emery rolled his eyes. She liked it now. She would hate it in three months and move a thousand miles away, most likely, and he’d only find out when his letters would return to him unopened with ‘Return to Sender’ stamped in red on the envelope.
“You don’t even speak the language.”
Mona laughed lightly. Emery loathed that laugh as much as he loved it. Such a careless sort of afterthought – as though she found no actual humor in his words, but wanted to appease him. A whimsical flippancy. An expression of pity. It frustrated him.
“Precisely why I like it.”
Emery tried not to show his annoyance. She couldn’t even order a croissant in French. Yet she had lived in Paris for at least a year—or was it two? He didn’t remember. She knew ‘bonjour’ and ‘au revoir.’ Hello and goodbye. She was a creature of constant hellos and goodbyes – it was what came in between those hellos and goodbyes that kept changing.
“What is the point in living in a place where you can’t understand anyone?”
“That’s the point, though.” She stared at him, but he couldn’t quite see her eyes beyond the tinted lenses. “If you don’t understand, then you can pretend. The nastiest insults become the prettiest compliments when you don’t understand the difference.”
It’s a pretend life, he wanted to tell her. You’re not really living.
But of course he wouldn’t say that. She wouldn’t listen anyway.
“I will never understand you, Mona.”
He had known her for a long time—thirteen years. Since freshman year of college. Every sporadic letter, every fleeting conversation since then always felt like he was speaking to someone he had never met. Struggling to hang on to the image of a person he would never really know, and perhaps, had never known at all.
She smiled coyly. “No, you won’t. But it’s better that way.”
Her coffee had stopped steaming. She had only taken a few sips—the mug was over half-full. €4.50 for a cold coffee. Such a waste—a tragedy.